New Delhi: Just like
Mahatma Gandhi always shared stories with her, grownups must take
time out to listen to their children seriously, says the iconic
leader's granddaughter Ela Gandhi who lives in South Africa and
wants to revive the community settlement, Tolstoy Farm, as a Gandhian retreat.
"The most abiding and talked about memory that I share of my
interactions with my grandfather is a story of the pumpkin. A lot
of little such incidents strike me even today," Ela Gandhi, 70,
who was here for the just concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, told IANS in an interview.
"Most of all this happened in 1945-1946 - the most crucial period
in the history of India. He had time for me as a granddaughter and
listened to me seriously. I think to take our children seriously
in a busy schedule is a big challenge for our generation," Ela
Gandhi, who is based in Durban, said.
Ela Gandhi was born to Manilal, the second son of the Mahatma, and
Sushila Gandhi in 1940 and grew up in an "ashram" at the Phoenix
Settlement, a community farm set by Mahatma Gandhi near Durban.
Her father Manilal returned to South Africa in 1917 to help run
the Phoenix Settlement and edit a newspaper, The Indian Opinion.
Mahatma Gandhi founded another experimental community settlement,
Tolstoy Farm, 35 km south of Johannesburg on 1,100 acres of land.
Ela Gandhi wants to revive the Tolstoy Farm as a Gandhian retreat.
"The farm was destroyed in a fire during an anti-India protest in
1985. The farm has been rebuilt and a lot of people are settled on
the land during 1985-1995. The land, however, fell in an area
designated for African people.
"The farm does not have as much land as before (because most of it
is inhabited by African people who faced a land crunch in the
urban areas). It is now a historical monument rebuilt with
government support," she said.
She points out that Indians have been in focus in South Africa
since last year when the country celebrated the 150th anniversary
of the arrival of the first indentured Indian workers to the
country in 1860.
"Last year, we commemorated three things as Indians in South
Africa. First, we are truly South Africans, united in our
participation in the struggle against apartheid, we are united
with all patriotic South Africans in our allegiance to the Freedom
Charter of 1955. which is based on the philosophy, 'I am because
you are' which urges everyone to come out to act to better the
lives of its people.
"We need to address initiatives that will tell the stories of all
races of South Africa. Many outstanding leaders emerged from the
struggle," Gandhi said.
The diminutive and genial granddaughter of Gandhi, who is back in
India after a year, feels "India has changed a lot in the last one
"The air is cleaner. India has managed to control its air
pollution from last year to this year. I found it difficult to
breathe last year but this year, there is definitely a change in
the atmosphere," Ela Gandhi told IANS.
"Everything has to be thought in terms of billions. With us in
South Africa, it is always in millions. The size (of India) is
mind boggling for us and every issue has to be placed in
perspective of that size, of the people - but despite that India
has progressed in almost every way," Gandhi said.
A freedom activist in her own right, Ela Gandhi was honoured with
the Padma Bhushan by the government of India in 2007 for her
efforts to revive and perpetuate the legacy of the Mahatma in
A peace activist, Gandhi was under house arrest for several years
for taking part in the anti-apartheid movement and then served as
the member of parliament in South Africa from 1994-2004.
"My house arrest affected me in many ways, but it could not chain
my thoughts and worlds. I spoke to people," she said.
Her striking resemblance to her grandfather adds to the rich
Gandhian legacy that sits naturally on her shoulders.
South Africa is finally changing, she said. "Now there is a
serious effort to foster unity. But 300 years of disunity cannot
change in 10-17 years.
"India is evincing lot of interest in South Africa. It is
interesting because India and South Africa share a lot in common -
both the nations have same kind of poverty, oppression and
suffering that third world countries face," Gandhi said.